Israel’s Far-Right Government Is Suffocating Domestic Dissent

In Israel, the crackdown against Palestinian solidarity is reaching grim new heights. Activists and ordinary citizens alike are getting fired and arrested for daring to say a word in support of Palestinians.

Israeli army soldiers walk near the Lions' Gate in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem on October 27, 2023, ahead of demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP via Getty Images)

Since the outset of Israel’s war on Gaza, the Israeli government has been severely ramping up its crackdown on domestic dissent. Activists, members of academia, and ordinary citizens are getting hit with doxxing, job terminations, threats and arrests — especially members of Israel’s Palestinian minority.

Increasing repression is commonplace in wartime, but Israel’s already authoritarian government, led by far-right figures such as Police Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, along with the enormous grief that Israelis suffered in the wake of the October 7 attacks, have paved the way for especially harsh treatment of dissidents.

Akin to some Western states’ attacks on Palestinian solidarity protests, the Israeli police are effectively forbidding anyone from expressing such ideas. Following the violent dispersal of pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Haifa and Umm al-Fahm this month, the police commissioner declared that “those who identify with Gaza can be escorted there on buses.” Protesters who simply showed up to the events, among them minors and a journalist, were kept under arrest for days.

The solidarity ban goes even further. An indoors conference for Jewish and Arab activists organized by the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Affairs was forcibly canceled by police, who reportedly threatened the owner of the event venue that they would shut it down lest he nix it with the event organizers. “From the 7th of October, we have been in a clear and immediate democratic emergency,” former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg said in a speech following the quashing of the conference, which he was supposed to cochair.

The police aren’t alone in their efforts to suppress Israeli solidarity with Palestinians. Hundreds of right-wing protesters showed up at anti-occupation, ultra-Orthodox journalist Israel Frey’s home in Bnei Brak on Saturday night in response to a prayer he held for Israeli and Palestinian child casualties the day prior. Rioters were recorded launching fireworks at his apartment. After escorting Frey and his family out of his apartment, police left Frey to fend for himself, with hordes of rioters still present. He fled to a hospital where the far-right mob continued to search for him, only managing to find safe refuge in the early morning. He remains in hiding at the moment of writing.

Unlike the impunity the police have extended to far-right mobs, left-wing activists are facing detention and arrests for much less. In Jerusalem, two activists from the Omdim Beyachad (Standing together) movement were detained while hanging posters that read: “We will get through this together,” in both Arabic and Hebrew. Police confiscated their posters and shirts. Police also arrested a young man, breaking into his home without a permit, and interrogated him for hours simply for putting up a sign over his balcony that said: “There is no holiness in an occupied city.” (He had the sign up long before the war began.)

Two weeks after he participated in Haifa’s solidarity protest, police arrested activist and blogger Yoav Haifawi. They rampaged through his home, confiscating any purportedly political material they could find, from flags, posters, and photographs to his wife’s paintings. The police still haven’t returned these items to him since his release.

Haifawi describes his arrest as purely political. “[The police] want to participate in the war effort,” he explained in an interview. “Haifa doesn’t have many worthy targets, so they found what they thought was the most worthy target to attack.”

Ben-Gvir boasted about Haifawi’s arrest on social media and upon his release, accusing the presiding judge, who happens to be Arab, of being “an enemy from within.”

Haifawi, who has been arrested many times throughout his life, stressed that Israel’s authoritarian tendencies run deep, but that the war’s outbreak has inaugurated an even more stifling level of repression. “Protests were already tense, but [the police] did not stop us from demonstrating.” Now, he says, “the police [have] announced that they would not allow any demonstrations.”

Repression of activists is not confined by the Green Line. On the day of Hamas’s attack, Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro was taken from his home in Hebron by settlers and soldiers, who arrested him for over ten hours. He was cuffed, degraded, and attacked. Two weeks later, soldiers forced him out of his home for having guests — Breaking the Silence founder Yehuda Shaul and a foreign journalist — which he was forbidden from doing earlier that week.

In Area C of the West Bank, as many Palestinians suffer displacement by violent settlers supported by the Israel Defense Forces, anti-occupation Israeli activists who seek to aid those Palestinians are facing attacks. In the now-abandoned community of Wadi a-Seeq, as settlers held Palestinian residents at gunpoint and tortured them for hours, soldiers joined the settlers in beating, robbing, and arresting Jewish activists on the scene. After the violence ended, authorities wiped activists’ phones to erase any trace of what had happened. In the village of At-Tuwani in Masafer Yatta, activists were shot at by a settler as they were filming his partners bulldozing an agricultural garden.

The biggest target of the current wave of repression are Palestinian citizens of Israel, in particular in the education sector. As early as October 16, over a hundred citizens had been arrested or taken in for investigation over social media posts, among them actors, singers, and public figures. Accused of supporting Hamas’s attacks, many such posts only declared solidarity with Palestinian civilians, spoke out against the war, recited religious texts, or even simply analyzed the state of the war.

Sharaf Hassan, chairman of the Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education, describes a systemic campaign by right-wing organizations, joined by student unions and endorsed by education institutions, of scavenging through social media posts of Arab students, teachers, and professors, going back as far as a decade, to find anything criticizing the occupation, opposing the war, or waving the Palestinian flag.

“The absolute majority of these posts do not break any law, it’s just an attempt to exploit the attitude of the war and rising nationalism and racism to direct the fire towards the national minority,” Hassan told me. The follow-up committee has received hundreds of inquiries from students facing disciplinary actions and teachers and professors being fired, having their teaching certificates taken or facing arrest. Left-wing Jewish education figures have endured similar treatment. “To use American terms,” Hassan says, “this is textbook Mccarthyism.”

The Israeli government is now considering laws and regulations that would go still further. Potential changes include making “excessive consumption of terrorist media” punishable by prison sentence, banning foreign press and ignoring freedom of information requests for the duration of the war, attempting to revoke the citizenship of those charged with supporting terrorism, and a for-now-shelved proposal legalizing the use of live fire on protesters blocking roads during wartime. The police also attempted to ban all political protests, but ended up backing down.

When even members of the Knesset who are subject to legal immunity get censored for “harming public trust,” activists are finding it impossible to act without the threat of harsh consequences. At a grim time like this, US activists should closely monitor these developments and stand in solidarity with those on the ground who are standing up despite the crackdowns. It will show us that we are not alone.